The Whole & the Parts
But does the Central Coast today have
an identity crisis? It’s an important re-
gion; almost 15% of the wine grapes
from California are planted there. But
most of them end up in bottles labeled
with some other appellation. There are
more than 350 wineries in the Central
Coast region, but most of them use one
of the Central Coast’s 32 sub-appella-
tions, from famous regions like Sta. Rita
Hills and Santa Lucia Highlands to ob-
scurities like Palcines, San Bernabe and
Pacheco Pass.
The Central Coast is long and nar-
row, stretching from the San Francisco
Bay down to Santa Barbara County, with
big plantings in Monterey, Santa Barbara
and San Luis Obispo counties. It averages
about 25 miles wide and includes four en-
tire counties that don’t touch the Pacific
Ocean: Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa
Clara and San Benito. The latter three
are noted for the influence of cool coastal
breezes on their terroir, but Contra Costa
County, home to some good old-vine
Zinfandel plantings, is an odd fit.
Paso Robles, another sub-appellation,
makes perfect sense geographically, but
is a poor fit weather-wise, as the relative
absence of fog makes summers very hot,
and stylistically, as the wines tend to be
big-bodied reds. Then again, most large
AVAs in California include small areas
with terroir that contradicts the main:
think of Carneros within Napa Valley.
For such a big appellation, Central Coast
is relatively descriptive.
Of the 4 million acres in the region,
about 100,000 are planted with grapes,
more than half of them white. Chardon-
nay is the most-planted grape in the re-
gion, and some of California’s best-regard-
ed Pinot Noir comes from here, as well as
Syrah and other Rhône varieties. This is
not Cabernet country, though Paso Ro-
bles growers would rightly disagree.
Bob Lindquist, founder of Qupé win-
ery in Santa Barbara County, says, “I’ve
been using ‘Central Coast’ on our Cen-
tral Coast Syrah since 1983. The first
ones I made were from Paso Robles. I used
a Paso Robles appellation and everybody
thought the winery was in Paso Robles.
Now we have grapes in both Santa Bar-
bara and San Luis Obispo. So for us to
combine those, Central Coast is what we
use. Central Coast is an important appel-
lation for us. When I’ve been short, I’ve
bought grapes from Monterey.”
Recognition Situation
Lindquist says he isn’t sure if consum-
ers will pay a premium for wines labeled
Central Coast. “But there is something
that defines the wine more than just
‘California,’” he says. “In general, the
Central Coast has a cool coastal image.
I think buyers agree.”
Frank Pagliaro, owner of Frank’s
Wine in Wilmington, DE, says, “As a
buyer I am more prone to purchase a
‘Central Coast’ wine for my shop rather
than a California appellation selection,
although I don’t really think most con-
sumers are even aware of the difference.
I think most folks look for Napa or So-
noma when it comes to California. It
could say Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez,
Central Coast or California on the label
and it’ll be purchased pretty much the
same way by most consumers.”
Wine industry analyst Jon Fredrikson
says, “We way overestimate what con-
sumers look at. I don’t think consumers
pay attention to the appellation under
$7. As you move up to $10 to $14, Cen-
tral Coast maintains some value among
some consumers. There’s a certain per-
centage of consumers who will pay a pre-
mium for it.”
It might depend on what varietal
they’re buying. Ironically, the one Robert
Mondavi Private Selection wine that will
still carry a California appellation is the
Pinot Noir because of the need to source
enough grapes to fill it. But Pinot Noir is
also the one varietal where Central Coast
might make the largest difference.
“A small portion of our customers
who are Pinot Noir lovers might pass
over the California appellation and pay
up, knowing the Central Coast origin is
likely to provide a higher quality wine,”
says Kent Benson of Westside Liquor in
Waite Park, MN.
So in sum, the more your customers
know about wine, the more likely that
Central Coast means something to them.
Something other than Tampa, anyway.
LEFT: Paso Robles is a climatic anomaly in the Central Coast, experiencing less fog and warmer tempera-
tures that favor big, bold reds. RIGHT: Bob Lindquist believes the “cool coastal image” helps distinguish
Central Coast wines from those simply designated California.
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